A theatre show is often like a swan. Out on stage, all is serene and beautiful whilst backstage there is a hive of activity going on. There have been various shows written about life backstage at a theatre – Noises Off springs to mind, though I’ve still not got around to seeing it. However, if you would like to see life backstage during a Christmas show, then you can do no better than toodle off to the Waterloo East Theatre to see Shaun Kitchener’s play Christmas Farce.
Thirty minutes – or in theatrical parlance, The Half – before curtain up and Alice (Natalie Lester) is the only person in the Green Room of a regional theatre. The fact it is Christmas is demonstrated not only by Alice’s OTT festive jumper but also with the gaudy decorations festooning the place. These are the handiwork of back-stage worker Makenzie (Marc-Gee Finch) and, while they are a tad tacky, they do add a sort of desperate festive cheer to the room. Alice is excited about opening night and hoping that, as she is understudying all the roles, maybe this will be her big chance to finally perform on a real life stage. This close to the show starting, there is a distinct lack of actors present as noticed by Director Beatrice (Emma Tansley) when she arrives “serene as a lagoon” to wish the cast well on their opening night. But she needn’t worry. Her leading lady, Ex-Soap Queen Stacey (Jamie-Rose Mark) and actor Samuel (Alan Bradley) are in their respective dressing rooms whilst leading man Phil is preparing himself in the wings. With the arrival of bickering couple Jonathan (Timothy George) and Georgie (Katherine Edrupt) and finally local radio presenter Danny (Samuel Buttery), Beatrice has her cast and the show is ready to go on. Then things start to unfold. One of the actors is out with the Trots – this doesn’t mean he has joined the communist party – so Alice is called on to bw Wise Man 3 and Shepherd 2 (or is it the other way round). Then there are concerns about Stacey, not to mention the various romantic – both hidden and visible – entanglements going on. With everything happening on the green room, and the critics licking their pencils on the stalls, will director and cast be able to deliver a nativity show that is memorable for all the right reasons?
I have to say that if backstage is anything like as hectic as Shaun portrays it, I’m so glad I sit out front with my notebook. There is so much going on, it’s a wonder the show ever gets put on at all. A with the Whitehall farces of old, Christmas Farce relies on a whole host of improbable things coming together to try and put the spanner into life. And, as a story it works really well. There were so many elements that really worked but for me, the Stacy breakdown story was my favourite, especially in the really hilarious method used to control her when she goes on the rampage. Without giving anything away, the other superb bit of writing is the Danny storyline which is hilarious and quite moving at the same time.
Director Stephen Davies uses the stage and his actors well, and the set is bleak enough to be the backstage area of many a small theatre. When we come to the cast, this is a highly talented bunch, all of whom bring their character to life beautifully. I loved Natalie Lester as Alice, all bubbly enthusiasm and hopefulness, with a terrible jumper but a wonderful can-do attitude, even when things don’t go in the way she expected. As a complete opposite, Timothy George makes Jonathan the most arrogant and obnoxious self-centred actor you will ever see. Jonathan believes everyone is out to do him down – no doubt because of his awesome talent – and really believes he is better than this production – though does he have 4 Inside Soap awards? I would really love to mention every one of the cast but I would be here for days. Suffice to say, this cast are all excellent and every character is beautifully written and portrayed.
If you are a Christmas non-traditionalist and want to do something festive but not a pantomime, then Christmas Farce is the real show for you. It is fun, frivolous, highly enjoyable and totally engaging. The show moves at a marvelous pace and by the end you have either got a marvelous insight into backstage life or you will be hoping it really is not like that in the Green Room. Either way, you will have had a fabulous evening.
Review by Terry Eastham
Written by BAFTA Rocliffe winner Shaun Kitchener (Hollyoaks, Positive – Park Theatre) and directed by Stephen Davies (5 6 7 8: The Steps Musical – Upstairs at the Gatehouse), the play is a relentlessly fun comedy; running from November 28 – December 17 inclusive.
Backstage at a regional theatre, it’s the opening night of a revamped Nativity and the atmosphere among the hapless cast and crew is far from festive. But as the curtain rises and the show spirals quickly out of control, they’re going to have to think fast to stop it becoming a complete turkey…
The cast is led by the comic talents of Jamie-Rose Monk (CBBC’s Class Dismissed, Holmes and Watson), Samuel Buttery (The Voice UK, Boy George musical Taboo); with Natalie Lester, Alan Bradley, Marc Gee-Finch, Emma Tansley, Katherine Edrupt and Timothy George.
West Avenue presents
November 28 – December 17
Waterloo East Theatre